How to apply to Barkley

As much I would love to, I can’t respond to all of the questions I receive about the Barkley entry process. This post seemed like the best solution, and contains essentially all of the information I can / am willing to provide. While I’m normally quite open to questions, this is a topic that I’m sorry to say I probably won’t offer any details on beyond what is here.

The entry process for Barkley isn’t public information for good reason: if you’re unwilling to do the work and the research to figure out how to enter, you certainly won’t be willing to keep going in the race when all other parts of your mind and body are telling you to quit. No matter how good you are, you’re going to reach that point. To succeed at Barkley and push past that point you have to want it badly enough so that figuring out how to enter is a minor inconvenience. And if you do want it that badly then the entry process actually works in your favor. In 2017 there were over 1,200 entries for 40 slots. The easier it is to apply, the higher that number goes and the lower your chances become. As it is, unless you’re a top tier elite runner, it might be many years of applying to get in (just like Western States, Hardrock, etc.).

So if you want to apply to Barkley, here are my suggestions:

  1. Seriously assess your motivation for doing so. Talk it over with someone close to you (preferably someone who would never want to do Barkley) to see if you’re thinking through it clearly. No, really. If it’s because you want to tell others you did Barkley, or to check something off your bucket list, then you should reconsider. That kind of motivation is not strong enough to push past Barkley’s challenges. It’s not a tough Tough Mudder. Those who have had success at Barkley (for all of the various definitions of Barkley success) have been internally motivated. They have sought to find and expand their own limits, wherever they may be. They have had a personal, deep desire for that experience regardless of any external opinions (positive or negative).
  2. Run the Barkley Fall Classic. This is a great opportunity to experience a taste of Barkley and decide whether you want more. Some people decide the BFC is enough, and it is much better to figure that out there than by going to Barkley and then deciding partway into loop 1ย that it’s not for you. The BFC also gives an opportunity to meet laz and many others involved in the race, who might be more forthcoming with information if they meet you in person and see you out there giving it your all. Also, if you win then you get an automatic entry. So there you go. If you want guaranteed entry into Barkley then go win the Barkley Fall Classic.
  3. Go run other races, the harder the better. Barkley is meant to find your absolute outermost limits, so to make the most of that opportunity it’s important to go into Barkley as close to those limits as possible. You won’t get in anymore without at least having a good 100 miler under your belt. I know this is a bit hypocritical coming from me, as I and other past Barkers haven’t necessarily had that kind of experience beforehand, but the increase in Barkley popularity that came along with the documentary necessitated some additional requirements to filter applications down to a reasonable level. I was extremely fortunate to get in before then and to afterwards have my Barkley experience itself on my resume (the only truly accurate predictor of Barkley success is past Barkley success). These races also serve a second purpose: you’ll meet people, and show them what kind of effort you’re capable of. Again, someone is much more likely to be willing to share information if they’ve met you in person and know you’re serious and capable. If you do the right races it won’t be long before you meet the right person, or at least someone who knows the right person.
  4. Do your research. The entry process isn’t a state secret and pieces of information are available here and there. There’s even a good description of how entrants get selected at barkleymarathons.com and more info in Matt Mahoney’s FAQ. Frozen Ed’s book is also a great read.

Best of luck, and if you want it badly enough and really understand what you’re getting yourself into then I truly wish to see you out there someday. If you want anymore info on my Barkley experiences, visit the Barkley Archive.

Cake baked for the runners by Liz Norred at the 2017 Barkley Marathons. Photo: Ed Aramayo

9 thoughts on “How to apply to Barkley

  • May 1, 2017 at 5:23 pm
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    Hi John,

    Thanks for this great post. I will probably give inquirers a link to this, since I too get quite a few requests for information on how to enter. And thanks also for mentioning my book!

    Frozen Ed

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    • May 2, 2017 at 2:17 am
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      Glad you liked it, and your book was one of my primary sources of information that first year! Although, it’s a bit more useful after you get in than for getting in.

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  • May 2, 2017 at 10:05 am
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    Where can i find a digital copy of the book?, a paperback copy will take a while to reach Peru … if it does

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    • May 2, 2017 at 10:26 am
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      Unfortunately I don’t know if there is one. I can check with Frozen Ed and will reply again if there is one available.

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  • May 3, 2017 at 2:18 pm
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    Thanks for a good read John – I don’t think I will ever get to a point in my running career where I will be able to take on the Barkley – but I love the race for all it represents.

    In terms of the book, I couldn’t find an electronic version of the either – however I really enjoyed getting my hands on it when it arrived. Very authentic – Old school and in that respect as well – at least to me – a nice quirk which goes hand in hand with the history of – and the race itself ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks to Frozen Ed for putting it together – I am still getting through it, enjoying every minute ๐Ÿ™‚
    Krgds
    Kasper

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    • May 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm
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      Glad you’re enjoying it, and good luck with your running adventures wherever they may take you! I did check with Ed and there is currently not a digital version available.

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  • May 5, 2017 at 6:40 am
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    This is very well written and presented John. I am almost 59 and only been running for 4 years and am nowhere near even coming close to considering a race of this magnitude. Since I have heard of the race I have always been captivated by the application process however.

    I am sure there would be heaps of runners trying to get one of those 40 spots, particularly now that some of the mainstream media has been talking about it.

    In reading all your blog posts John, I am so impressed with your humility. There is never any bragging or boasting implying “Look what I did”. And you share this post by example. It is never about a bucket list or bragging rights. As you share it is “finding and expanding your own personal limits”. Something I have been doing these on events of a much smaller scale.

    Reply

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